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Stanford's 104th commencement
STANFORD -- Thanks to a last-minute sprint to the stage by Stanford Symphony Orchestra director Karla Lemon, Pomp and Circumstance began on time and on key, and the university's 104th Commencement was officially launched at 9:30 a.m. on a sunny June 18.
Graduates later would hear U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry urge them to become engaged in world affairs, but as the solemn strains of the traditional graduation processional began the students had only one objective -- to break out of their holding pattern at the bottom of the stadium ramp and scatter as widely and as whimsically as they could.
As feet flew and Frisbees soared and plastic golf balls traced orange arcs above the green turf, parents and friends filling sections 32 through 44 roared their approval of the celebration.
This year's much-anticipated Wacky Walk, threatened with cancellation by administrators and then reinstated by senior acclaim, quickly assumed Olympic pretentions. At one end of the field a black-robed team chased an evasive puck with plastic hockey sticks, putters yelled "Fore!" and shot for "Par 95," and volleyball players struggled to spike across a hand-held green net -- while a contingent of native New Yorkers cheered them on as they held up cardboard replicas of the Brooklyn Bridge and the Chrysler Building ("New York: Get It?" read their know-it-all East Coast banner).
Downwind, seniors pumped free throws at a child- size basketball hoop, stumbled through impromptu sack races in tuf-turf bags, and ran erratic figure-8's with a flotilla of kites. Beach-paddle balls plopped up and down the rows of 4,000 folding chairs and Superstring struck out at passersby with gooey white tentacles.
"Thank you Mom & Dad" banners were unfurled and seniors scampered up and down the track yelling, "Here I am! Over here!" to their families in the stands. Many were counting on creative headgear to serve as identifying beacons in the swirling sea of black and had attached almost anything that could be glued or stapled -- balloons, Big Mac containers, mouse ears, pizza boxes, bumper stickers, bicycle helmets, country flags, a green parrot and Stanford cows.
The pace on the field was frenetic and "M.C." (for Escher, not Hammer), a four-foot live green iguana sporting a custom-designed tiny black mortarboard, clung to her owner's shoulder in what looked like reptilian terror. "She's been here all four years," said Jon Lindsay of San Diego, "so it's her graduation, too."
Honors for highest launch of the morning went to two students who tied a graduation robe to a white weather balloon and cheered as it cleared the top rows of the stadium and headed for Palo Alto.
Referring to the Wacky Walk and "celebratory Stanford spirit" in his opening remarks, President Gerhard Casper noted that he himself had "never worn a bathing suit" under his robes or been "tempted to slip 'n' slide to the podium." But on this morning of new beginnings, he suggested that change was possible.
"I now am considering starting still another new custom: replacing our robes, in accordance with the spirit of the venue, with football jerseys so that future audiences may identify us by our numbers. For instance, as the ninth president of Stanford I might get the number 9."
Good-natured bantering between graduates and faculty began with impromptu chants as professors filed through the standing seniors to the stage. "Condi, Condi" and "Floyd, Floyd" cheers swelled as the provost and associate dean of the chapel passed, and when U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry and his entourage of Secret Service agents arrived, the chorus shifted to a lighthearted "men with guns, men with guns."
Casper appeared to enjoy the interaction -- some vocal, some kazoo -- that accompanied his brief address. When he read from a letter by Lucy Allabach, a graduate of the Class of 1895 who wrote to her parents that she and her classmates had decided to appear at graduation "as college women in street suits," one young woman seated near Casper cheered, "Go, girl!" The president attempted to repeat the remark, then added, "But I'm not promising to convey all other commentaries."
When Casper acknowledged that the achievements of those on the field "would not have been possible without you in the stands," members of the Class of '95 stood on their chairs to applaud and whistle at their families and friends in the stands behind them.
Applause also accompanied Casper's announcement of the degrees to be awarded: 1,669 bachelor's degrees; 2,041 master's degrees and 843 doctoral degrees. He noted that the Class of '95 included 382 students graduating with departmental honors and 275 graduating with university honors. Moreover, 129 students had satisfied the requirements of more than one major, 83 were graduating with dual bachelor's degrees and 235 were graduating with co-term undergraduate and master's degrees.
In his introduction of Secretary Perry, Casper noted that the defense chief's Stanford roots "run deep." Not only does Perry hold two degrees from Stanford, but he currently is on leave from teaching in the Department of Engineering-Economic Systems and as co-director of the Stanford Center for International Security and Arms Control.
Noting Perry's considerable background in business, government and academia, Casper reminded listeners that he had previously served as undersecretary of defense for research and acquisitions in the Carter administration.
"Bill left here just as we announced a new set of budget cuts at Stanford," Casper added. "Had he stayed, dealing with Provost Rice, he hardly would have faced the delicate situation he is now in of being appropriated more money than he has asked for!"
Since being appointed to the top defense position in the Clinton administration, Perry has earned a reputation as a pragmatic manager whose training as a statistician, engineer and mathematician is apparent in his efforts to downsize the military, promote defense conversion and reform the military's inefficient procurement system. He is known as a sometimes blunt administrator who says what he thinks, and also as a thoughtful academic who can quote from the works of T.S. Eliot and W.H. Auden when the occasion calls for eloquence.
In his commencement address Perry wove historical trends with personal anecdotes to illustrate his belief in the need to remain engaged -- as a nation, and as individuals.
Noting that "the ending of the Cold War has opened a door and the future is out there -- waiting to come in," Perry emphasized that American security is "inextricably joined with that of other nations." He traced the decisions citizens had made at two pivotal points in American history -- to adopt a policy of isolationism following World War I, and to become engaged in world affairs after World War II.
When he earned his master's degree at Stanford in 1950, Perry said, his outlook was "dominated by world affairs and national security issues." As a result, his generation was "determined not to repeat the mistakes of the past." He and his classmates were committed to building the United Nations, to rebuilding Europe through the Marshall Plan and to creating the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Today's challenge, Perry said, is for the United States to remain engaged in international affairs. He cited the examples of American military involvement in the successful international Persian Gulf campaign and current joint efforts with the former Soviet Union to dismantle nuclear weapons.
Talking about two visits he had made to Pervomaysk, the former Soviet Union's most important ICBM launch site, Perry said that he had seen nuclear missiles being removed from their silos and taken to a factory where they would be dismantled. "By next year this missile field will have reverted to a wheat field," he said to applause.
Perry ultimately urged graduates who were heading into the "global marketplace" to remain "engaged" in world affairs so that countries would never "fall back again to the tired old habits of war."
Students, faculty and family members listened politely to Perry's address, which was punctuated by a light plane that circled the stadium four times during his talk, trailing a banner that read, "Perry: Bosnia Is Dying! Lift the Arms Embargo." Several dozen protesters had gathered at the stadium, holding yellow, hand-lettered signs that called for action in Bosnia.
"Although Perry is not particularly flashy, he conveys enormous integrity," said Walter P. Falcon, director of the Institute for International Studies, which oversees the work of the Center for International Security and Arms Control, where Perry holds a faculty appointment. "He has an extraordinary capacity to focus on key issues, and I think his talk was an excellent blend of history and personal experience, as well as a challenge to graduates to embrace internationalism."
Many members of the Class of 1995 listened to Perry's talk with visibly keen interest as they held "1995 Graduation Bingo!" cards and marked off squares when the secretary uttered the words "future," "Stanford," "degree," "career," "citizen," "Bosnia" and so on.
Two minutes before the talk concluded, a young man jumped up with a congratulatory "Bingo!"
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